Christmas Sunday: Santa Vs. Krampus
Everyone knows about Santa, his elves and his reindeer team, who bring toys to children from all over the world. However, his darker counterpart Krampus lurked in the shadows, disciplining bad kids. Today we bring them both into the world to compare these two long-standing Christmas figures.
Santa Claus and Krampus come from European folklore based on Saint Nicholas and have the uncanny ability to visit every child on Earth, giving out rewards or punishments based on their behavior throughout the year. Like Superman and Zod, they may have similar origins, but they have completely different ideologies for using their superpowers.
- Santa Claus : Santa is a jovial old man who brings toys to good girls and boys according to the patented and opaque system by which Santa defines “good.” Even if you don’t feel its omniscient gaze for a year, you can certainly feel its omnipresence in every mall, retail store, or commercial in America when Thanksgiving is over (if not sooner).
- Krampus : Lesser known Santa doppelganger, Krampus, has the same powers as Santa, but he doesn’t come to reward good kids. He comes to punish the bad. Depending on which legends you believe , he either comes to just spank naughty children with sticks, or drag them into the underworld. It’s tough for siblings to fight, isn’t it?
The folklore around both of these iconic figures can transform and change over the years, but as we learned from cute little Virginia , yes, Santa Claus (and indirectly Krampus) is as real as our belief in them. This is how they relate to each other as the yin and yang of the Christmas spirit.
Santa has a cultural monopoly, but Krampus has brand issues
While Saint Nicholas can trace its historical roots back to the 3rd century, the modern vision of Santa Claus dates back to the 19th century. The 1823 poem “The Visit of St. Nicholas” (which you may best know as “The Night Before Christmas”) combined with an 1881 illustration by artist Thomas Nast form the earliest depictions of a cheerful, fireplace intruder. An advertising campaign for Coca-Cola, launched in 1931, helped to strengthen this image so much that no one else remembered Santa Claus .
Krampus, on the other hand, has had a hard time gaining any popularity. It has its own parties and traditions such as the Krampusnacht on the night before the feast of St. Nicholas . Festivals are still celebrated in parts of Austria, Bavaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia and Northern Italy. According to some traditions, on the Krampusnacht, Krampus made his rounds, distributing punishments. In some versions of this legend, Saint Nick and Krampus did travel together . Santa gave out gifts and Krampus gave out coal! Yes, while modern-day Santa tries to deny knowing Krampus and ignoring him at parties, Santa stole some of his gimmicks when they worked together. Shameful.
As with the Wicked Witch of the West , the side of Krampus’s story has been erased over the years, and Santa can tell his own version of events. However, as usual, Santa was helped. Many cultures have tried to ban it for centuries. For example, the Catholic Church tried to ban the celebration of Krampus in the 12th century. More recently, the Christian Social Party of Austria tried to ban Krampus in 1934, just as Santa was booming in America.
Of course, it’s hard to blame Santa for all the blame. Krampus’s basic idea of beating up kids and dragging the really bad ones to hell isn’t exactly what the crowd likes. He is also quite often confused for Santa. The 2010 Finnish film “Rare Exports” is a horror film that explicitly refers to Krampus , but is referred to throughout the film as Santa Claus. Krampus needed a better publicist.
Santa has a better psychological plan for influencing children’s behavior
When Santa arrives in town, he brings toys for all the good kids and sometimes a lump of coal for the naughty (although the evidence that this does happen is anecdotal at best). Krampus, on the other hand, will perform the supernatural equivalent of whipping a child and, in a pinch, drag him to hell. Psychologically, none of them have a complete disciplinary system, but Santa is better equipped to improve the behavior of children.
There is a theory in psychology known as operant conditioning . This theory describes how different rewards or punishments can influence behavior. You may have heard some of the terms associated with this theory, such as “positive reinforcement,” but they are often misunderstood. According to this theory, there are four categories of responses:
- Positive reinforcement: This occurs when a reward is added after the behavior. For example, children are nice all year round, so Santa brings them presents.
- Negative reinforcement: This occurs when the reward is the removal of a stimulus. For example, when a parent successfully convinces children to be good all year long, their “reward” is that they no longer need to hear their children fight.
- Positive Punishment: This occurs when punishment is introduced after the behavior. For example, children fight all year round, so Santa gives them coal or Krampus hits them with a stick. Note that “positive” here does not refer to how pleasant the punishment is, but rather that something is being added rather than removed.
- Negative Punishment: This occurs when punishment involves removing something after a certain behavior. For example, children start to fight at Christmas, so the parents take the toys Santa brought.
As you can see from the examples above, neither Santa nor Krampus works using all the methods available. They still need their parents to fix their weakness sometimes. However, Santa uses both positive reinforcement and positive punishment. Krampus uses only positive punishment. Even if we put aside whether it’s better to use a stick or a carrot, Santa at least has both tricks in his bag. Krampus only has (literally) a stick.
Of course, the question also arises as to whether the disciplinary system applied once a year is generally effective. Most of the kids do n’t really remember starting to be good until November anyway. However, Santa has an advantage here. Even though he can barely influence children for a month of the year, Krampus has a habit of dragging children to the underworld. It’s hard to learn to be a good kid when you’re in hell.
Krampus is as metal as fuck
Have you seen this guy? Okay, yes, the holidays are peace on Earth, goodwill towards men and all that. Santa has definitely figured it out. If you want a holiday that is joyful, loving and full of good mood, Santa Claus will take care of you. But we just have to talk for a second about how insanely metal Krampus is.
The above GIF is a scene from the 2015 movie Krampus. In this film, a boy fights with his family and wishes for their separation. To answer the call, Krampus sends a squad of evil toys and elves after them. Finally, he walks in to open the pit of hell, where he drags the entire family into an endless Christmas morning with everyone they hate. The dramatic irony is that you are forced to spend eternity talking with your family as punishment for breaking the boundaries of Shakespeare’s Christmas.
However, everything about Krampus is metal at its core. The toys are twisted incarnations of classic toys such as teddy bears, cherub figurines, and one box house that looks more like a giant anaconda. Krampus himself walks on giant hoofed legs, hunched under the weight of his massive horns, stretching out his victims with elongated claws on each toe that look like they are carved out of ebony. Every scene he’s in looks like it needs to berated by Slayer .
There is no real comparison here with Santa Claus. Mr. Klaus does not aim to be “cool,” “metallic,” or “overwhelmingly cool in the biblical sense of the word.” He wants to inspire us to be kind and generous to each other and hopefully learn to carry that spirit before the end of the year. This is a good thing. But … look at this guy . Krampus wins.
Verdict: bring Krampus back
The world can rest easy knowing that Santa isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Well, he might have to move when the polar ice caps melt , but no one will give up on Santa’s idea. We will still have gifts, stockings, cookies, milk, and flying deer as we teach our children to be kind to one another.
However, Krampus hasn’t been up to par for centuries. Having survived numerous cultural taboos and a terrible reputation, we have finally reached the point where we are ready to balance the light and dark sides of Christmas. Though you might not want to give Krampus too much leeway in raising your kids.